Picks and Pans Review: A Man of No Importance

updated 01/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/23/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

Albert Finney, Brenda Fricker, Tara Fitzgerald, Michael Gambon

The 24A is the route to take in the Dublin of the early 1960s. The bus conductor (Finney) may be careless about giving out tickets, but he's dogged about giving recitations from the work of his favorite playwright-poet, native son Oscar Wilde. There's another passion he must, however, keep subdued: his ardor for the young bus driver Rufus Sewell.

One morning the bus gets a new passenger (Fitzgerald), a ravishing young woman just up from the country. Finney, captivated by her freshness and innocence, immediately insists that she play the title role in Wilde's Salome, a production he is staging with several eager thespians from the bus route. When Finney tells his spinster sister (Fricker) about Fitzgerald, she's delighted. Perhaps her brother's bachelor days are dwindling. But trouble is brewing. Finney's landlord (Gambon) is so horrified by the supposed salaciousness of Salome (he is cast in the play as King Herod) that he contrives to quash the production. Fitzgerald proves not to be the innocent Irish rose of Finney's imaginings, and Finney himself—trying for the first time "to cuddle," as he says, with a man—comes to grief.

It's a pity that the movie is not quite up to the charms of the playwright-poet whose spirit infuses it. The first hour passes at what could diplomatically be called a regal pace and what isn't slow is often a bit inchoate. On second thought, put that aside. The importance of A Man of No Importance is not the plot but Finney's utterly breathtaking performance. The full measure of his talent and a career's worth of experience are brought to bear in his evocation of a lonely, tortured, brave man searching for transcendence. (R)

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